Solaris (1972)

Cover of "Solaris - Criterion Collection&...
Cover of Solaris - Criterion Collection

We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror.

This is one of those important films directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.  I have been reluctant to watch it.  It features those elements that usually annoy me:  the pacing is limp, the plot  minimal, the hero unsympathetic, and the conclusion ambiguous.

But I surprised myself by being satisfied by it.

A space station orbits a strange planet named Solaris.  Though scientists have studied it for years, the data is inconclusive.  Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), a psychologist, goes to evaluate the mental health of the three remaining scientists.  His report will determine whether the project is continued.  When he arrives at the station, he finds the situation is much more unstable than was believed on Earth.

To me the basic story was of a man’s spiritual awakening.

Kris begins as a closed-off, nearly heartless man.  He is on the verge of a leaving Earth behind but he barely seems to register the change before him. He’s lost many human connections in his life.  He’s a widower. He’s been estranged from his father for several years and yet makes no overt gesture to reconcile with his father. He doesn’t appear to be attached to his son either. He rebuffs the astronaut who has come to tell of his experiences on the planet.    Though he strolls through the lovely countryside of his childhood, his expression is morose.

When he reaches the station, the scientists have neglected their environment, behave strangely and keep secrets from Kris.  He is confronted with what appears to be his wife  Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk).  She is not quite Hari but she does act as a catalyst to crack open Kris’s heart and expand his spirit.

I think that by the end of the film, Kris is open to whatever may come rather than shutting himself off from his surroundings.  Of course, other viewer have had a completely different interpretation.  They could be right.  I don’t know.

Perhaps Tarkovsky was trying to convey that we should examine ourselves before we take our damaged souls out into space.

Trivia:

  • Stanisław Lem wrote the science fiction novel the film was based on.
  • The original title is “Solyaris.”
  • The running time is165 minutes.
  • Tarkovsky’s least favorite film.   Lem disliked the movie too.
  • The painting that Harey gazes at in the movie is “Hunters in the Snow” (1565) by the Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder (c. 1525-69).
  • It was remade in 2002 by Steven Soderberg.

Reviews:

Roger Ebert, review.

David Howe, Washington Post, review.

Spirituality and Practice, review.

Culture Cartel, review.

Filmcritic.com, review.

Turner Classic Movies, review.

Not Coming To A Theater Near You, review.

Sci Fi Movie Page, review.

Shock Cinema Magazine, review.

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